I Was a Bad Sailor

A Navy enlistment gone wrong.

I wasn't always in trouble or on drugs when I was in the Navy. But I did report to the boat with two black eyes, a busted lip, and mangled nose. My new chief took a look at me when I arrived and said, "You're going to be a handful, aren't you?" His name was Chief Jacques, and he was a stout, broad man with a New England accent thick as clam chowder.

I protested and tried to explain, but explanations fall short when you really look as if you've been in a big bust-up. And I had.

The first seven months I was in the Navy I'd been in boot camp, submarine school, and navigation electronics school. This was spread out over the fall and winter of 1995 and 1996.

When all the other young recruits in sub school had gone on leave for the holidays, I stayed behind in Groton, Connecticut. The command left a skeleton crew of students around the school to stand watch at different buildings and organize little work parties to keep the base running. School was closed, so there was only me and a few other guys who sat around in the TV lounge of the barracks and watched music videos. We'd take a cab through the snow to get coffee and watch movies at the local mall, while everyone else was home with their families and girlfriends, opening presents and eating Christmas dinner.

We had to stay around base on our duty days, which was every couple of days. On your duty day you stood a watch. Standing a watch meant sitting at a desk at the front door to whatever building you were guarding and waiting for nobody to come in, because everyone on the whole base was gone. There were procedures for what to do if a visiting admiral showed up or if someone without authorization came in, but during the weeks before and after Christmas there wasn't a soul on that base except us guys on duty. So we scribbled in notebooks, wrote letters, drank coffee, all the things you're not supposed to do on a formal watch. Mostly we counted down the time until our relief arrived, so he could sit there and count down the time until his relief came.

One thing I did was keep an extra log book at the desk. Not the official log book of the watch. That was a boring damn thing. The official log book was a blank notebook with a green hardcover. The first person to start a new log had to neatly write along the front cover, "Deck Log Building 381 United States Navy Submarine School New London Connecticut" and, inside the boring pages, especially during the down time, we'd write something like "0900 : Building is secure. No phone calls. No visitors."

On the front covers of the separate log books I kept, I drew pictures, usually something terribly un-military. I was good at drawing pin-up girls, girls like the kind you'd see painted on the side of old WWII bombers. Inside I'd write what I had done that week, who I had met, what I had seen.

"Man, there is this gorgeous girl who works at Starbucks in the mall. She looks young, a couple years younger than me, maybe she's just out of high school. But she has a soft light-tan face and three earrings in each ear. You can see her earrings when she tucks her chestnut hair back. And she has a nice round body under her green uniform apron. But I can't ask her out. I don't even know her, except the name on her tag, 'Amber.' I just go in and buy a big damn cappuccino, and she gives it to me and I can't say anything. I just turn around and leave so I don't seem like I'm uncool. Last time I went there I hung around and looked at stuff on the shelf like I wasn't just waiting to talk to her. Other people came in and she got busy and then I was standing there looking at coffee mugs and little chocolates and things, like I really had to make up my mind as to whether to buy something or not. Pretty soon I'd been there for 15 minutes, debating on buying something to not seem like a creep or just go up and ask her out. She's a local, so I doubt she'd go out with a sailor. Especially a sub school sailor and not even a real fleet sailor. When everyone had cleared out, I went to talk to her and she grabbed her friend's hand and leaned in and whispered something in her ear and then went to the back room real quick. I don't think I can go back there. I looked like a damned dummy. I can't even go back there to get coffee now."

The other watches would find the log. Some would scribble designs on the back cover or write things in the pages. One guy was notorious for hooking up with girls, and I didn't doubt he was lying because I'd seen him around school and he was good-looking, one of those cocky guys who has a bunch of other guys all around him talking and joking in the smoke areas outside the barracks.

His name was Mark and he said he was a tattoo artist from Chicago, and he'd draw spider webs and things on the back of the book and write, "I don't know how it is where you guys are from, but the girls here just seem easier than in Chicago. Dude, all you gotta do is go to a local party and talk to a chick and these girls are ready to go. There are so many parties with kegs and stuff out there in town. These Connecticut girls are fun and there's a party every weekend."

Mark had been in school before me and had been in Connecticut longer and he knew some locals. He was older and was either old enough to get into bars or had a fake ID.

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